While recently watching an old movie (pre-1996) I heard a character use the term “meme.”
Of course meme has been a word longer than there has been an internet, but how many people know that?
Merriam-Webster defines meme as: an idea or behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture. Therefore, all funny cat photos with added text are memes but not all memes are..well, you get it.
My generation, ('80s and '90s kids) interacted by quoting the wisdom of intellectuals such as Sandler, and Farley, Bill and Ted and Wayne and Garth. This was part of our collective conscience. You had to watch Saturday Night Live (yes, live not recorded) to be in on the schoolyard conversations Monday morning.
The internet has allowed us to share culture now more than ever before, but at what cost? Are we losing the true meaning of our words?
Take, for example, fortnight. Ask anyone under the age of 20 what the word means and they are more likely to say it's a first-person shooter than a two-week time period.
The same with the word minion. What used to be thought of as a servile follower or subordinate of a person in power (thanks again Merriam-Webster) now commonly refers to the little, yellow, overalled, mumbling creatures often featured in Walmart claw machines.
How many of us use words and phrases without questioning their origins?
I recently overheard the celebrity sisters on one of my wife's guilty-pleasure reality shows ask what does it mean to be a “Debbie Downer? And who exactly, is Debbie?”
“Rachel Dratch from Saturday Night Live!” I said to the TV as I went back to reading my book, pretending like I wasn't listening.
How many of you, for that matter, have said “Bye, Felicia,” without realizing it is a quote from 1995's classic film Friday?
Words take on meanings of their own. Always have and always will.
Shakespeare is said to have created numerous phrases still in use today such as: “send him packing.” “neither here nor there,” “mum's the word,” “with bated breath,” “all of a sudden,” “wild -goose chase,” and so on and so forth... (not sure if that's one of his)
We carelessly throw around phrases such as “touch base” and “under the bus” in business speak with no regard to their literal meanings.
That being said, (also way overused in my opinion) it's no use being a guardian of grammar because words change all the time. We create words like “webinar” out of necessity. Because sometimes a thing exists before there is a word for it.
Merriam-Webster adds new words every year, adding over 1,000 in 2018 alone.
The most common adjective I bet every one of you uses in almost every conversation, every day is: okay. (or OK in news writing style)
So what does OK stand for? It's not that simple. The website phrases.org attributes the etymology (the origin of words) of OK as explained by distinguished Columbia University professor Allen Read who said the letter's stood for “Oll Korrect,” a deliberate, humorous corruption of “All Correct” dating from the 1830s.
Our job as journalists is to write news stories in a clear concise manner that is understandable by any literate adult. We never use a big word when a smaller word will do. (Unless its an opinion column, like this one)
Our goal is to look out for our reader and never embarrass or be pretentious. As much as the English teachers of the world lament the death of the English language, it's no use being a word snob.
As my mother told me as a child, no one likes to be corrected.
And as novelist Anne Lamott said: “Sometimes it's better to be kind than right.”